CALLUM WALSH continued his rise up the ranks with a controversial victory in the shadows of Madison Square Garden.
The undefeated Irishman – who is trained by boxing royalty Freddie Roach – returned to action at MSG's famous Theater on Thursday night.
Standing between the surging super-welterweight and a perfect 9-0 record was New York local Ismael Villarreal.
The Bronx bruiser was, on paper, the toughest opponent of Walsh's career.
And the American ended up putting the 22-year-old through the gauntlet on his way to suffering a controversial decision defeat, which came courtesy of harsh 96-93, 97-92, 97-92 scorecards.
After barely passing the toughest test of his career, Walsh said: "I'm very happy.
"I'm 22 years old and I'm fighting real guys.
"That guy was definitely a real fighter. So yeah, definitely happy with that; real happy."
Despite fighting on enemy territory, Cork clubber Walsh came out to a deafening rendition of the world-known chant of the travelling Irish.
"Ole, Ole, Ole" rang throughout the arena before the super-prospect made his way to the ring.
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And a clearly frustrated Villarreal, who had plenty of his loved ones in the crowd, looked to silence the hostile crowd early with a stiff and piston-like jab.
Slick southpaw Walsh, however, did a good job of cutting off the ring early and putting the American on the back foot.
Walsh looked to land to the body early doors and had success with rasping hooks.
Villarreal soon got the respect of Walsh with a beautiful overhand right counter before the halfway point of the round.
Another right soon rattled the dome of Walsh, who responded with a good straight left.
Walsh started the second like a bat out of hell and sent the sweat flying off Villarreal's glistening forehead with a straight left which drew a big reaction from the crowd.
Walsh invested heavily in the lead uppercut soon after but Villarreal was wise to them.
One, however, found its way through the guard and briefly wobbled the local lad, who was forced to cover up and block an ensuing flurry.
Walsh looked to work behind his jab early in the third as he tried to pen Villarreal into the corner.
The Irishman landed a good lead hook in tight a minute into the stanza but failed to follow up with anything of note.
Villarreal's corner erupted when their man landed two hard shots and started stalking a retreating and tiring visitor.
And he almost had him on his backside seconds before the end of the round courtesy of a swift three-piece combo.
Villarreal thought he'd scored a big knockdown early in the fourth but the ref judged him to have pushed down his man.
Walsh looked tired midway through the round but came back with a rip-roaring combo – which included a nasty uppercut – that put Villarreal on wobbly legs.
But instead of rushing in for the kill, the southpaw opted to pick his shots before being hurt by a low below seconds before the bell.
Villarreal headhunted for most of the fifth, abandoning the feints and footwork which served him well in the third.
Walsh blocked most of the telegraphed shots which came his way and actually egged on his foe to throw more.
A clash of heads briefly paused the action after the start of the sixth but Walsh shook off the cobwebs and quickly went back to work.
Two successive three-punch combos in a row snapped back the head of Villarreal, who made sure to respond with one of his own after being cracked.
Walsh then struggled to land his straight left on the feint and taunt-heavy Villarreal, who went hell for leather after hearing the 10-second clacker.
He got the better of the two ensuing exchanges and went back to his corner full of confidence for the seventh.
The Irish in attendance were worried for their man in the eighth when he went into retreat mode and stopped working behind the jab.
But the shot of the round came from the fatigued prospect, who opened up a cut above the brow of Villarreal with a brilliant right hook.
A clearly tired Walsh clinched multiple times after the restart, much to the frustration of Villarreal's team.
Walsh planted a beauty of a straight left on the dome of Villarreal in the final minute of the stanza, although the American took it like a champ.
Neither man showed any great sense of urgency early in the ninth, despite it seemingly being a razor-close fight.
Walsh edged himself ahead with a beauty of a straight left that appeared to stagger Villarreal.
However, it did the exact opposite, stirring his foe on and prompting him to hunt for hard shots to the body.
A stiff one-two briefly set Villarreal back in his tracks but he quickly composed himself and went again.
As they were in the early embers of the ninth, both men were patient and opted not to rush in recklessly in the final round.
Walsh, however, found himself in trouble after being knocked down by a series of hooks with two minutes of the round remaining
He quickly bounced back to his feet but, surprisingly, went on the retreat.
Walsh was on course to finish the round strong until he had the sweat smacked off his forehead by a huge overhand right.
Fan in attendance were left stunned by the wide scorecards, with many expecting a split decision verdict to be announced.
Hollywood Fight Night results
Callum Walsh def. Ismael Villarreal via unanimous decision (96-93, 97-92, 97-92)
Umar Dzambekov def. Frederic Julan via unanimous decision (79-73, 78-74, 78-74)
Gor Yeritsyan def. Luis Alberto Veron via unanimous decision (80-71, 79-72, 78-73)
Brian Ceballo def. Kenneth McNeil via TKO – Round 4, 2:17.
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